DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have recently become disabled due to MS. Depending on the day, I use a cane, crutches or a wheelchair.
I have run across curious people who ask intrusive medical questions, skeptical people who ask rude questions designed to discover whether or not I am faking it and overly anxious people who just don't know what to do.
I feel as if I've handled most of these above situations well, but there is one I still am completely at a loss with: pity.
I am quite surprised to get it as I am still quite vigorous, active, and cheerful -- my old self except for the visible presence of mobility equipment and perhaps the propensity to sit down more often. I am not dragging myself around mournfully, sighing and wiping away a tear whenever I see a youth happily running down the street.
What is the polite response to pity? This can be a pitiful look, an explanation that someone is praying for me or voiced anguished misery at the fact that I am disabled.
I have tried looking deeply uncomfortable, abruptly changing the subject, brightly and somewhat idiotically remarking upon how utterly delightful my life is, and even fleeing certain transgressors when I see them coming, but nothing seems to work. I have found myself growing more and more irritable with these displays.
I will be going to a large family gathering soon, and at least one relative has told me that she is "dreading" seeing me in the chair for the first time. Suddenly, I am dreading it, too. Do you have any pointers?
GENTLE READER: It pleases Miss Manners that you want to react politely. But not, she trusts, in the sense of "making everyone feel comfortable," which many believe to be etiquette's only goal.
It is perfectly polite to respond to what people actually said, rather than to the meaning they thought they conveyed. The person who said she dreaded seeing you in a wheelchair could be told, "Well, I'll try to keep out of your way, but it's going to be difficult for us to avoid each other." An offer to pray for you could be met with a breezy, "Thank you; I'll pray for you, too," or a gentle, "Thank you, but don't you want to save your prayers for those who need help?"
Looks may also be returned in kind. To avoid mimicking the pity look, add a sad smile that seems to say, "Oh, you poor thing, you can't help it."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When making an introduction, is it necessary to disclose the significance of the person before you say their name?
Example: This is my brother Paul. This is my wife, this is my better half, this is my partner, etc.
GENTLE READER: Family relationships, yes; significance, no.
The rule was made to avoid introducing someone as "my friend," which implies that the other person being introduced is not a friend. But "my brother, wife, partner" (partner now being a conventional term) should be mentioned. If the ban against significance encourages you to drop that patronizing phrase, "my better half," Miss Manners will be grateful.